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As a little girl, I always dreamed of living the fairy tale life as a princess in a beautiful castle perched upon a hill, with my long locks of brown wavy hair flowing over the castle window waiting for my prince charming to come and sweep me off my feet. Oh wait…that’s Rapunzel. Things like that don’t actually happen in real life, but that’s what we grow up thinking about if you come from the US. We don’t really have castles in America. I say that as a general statement, as there are “castles” in America, which are more like big fancy schmancy mansions. Hearst Castle in California is a great example of a mansion house being called a “castle” built by a newspaper millionaire in the early 1900s and is nothing compared to European castles.

Ever since I first came to Europe in 1999 for the first time with my family at the young impressionable age of 14, I have seen an endless amount of different castles in many different countries. My father always used to tell me that I was living in a fairytale and I better come back to reality. But how could I when real life fairytale castles DO exist!? Now, I just imagine my tiny apartment as some tiny castle overlooking the road with tall double white doors that open to a gate as my “balcony” which I imagine opening and singing to all the fluttery birds to come to my window like a scene straight out of Cinderella.

But here in Germany? I’ve seen castles that have left my jaw dropped on the floor in awe and other castles that are simple and not nearly as romantic. But then I realized, none of the castles are actually called a “castle”. Here, they have different meanings and while wandering around the ruins of an old castle the other night near Regensburg, I asked my German boyfriend what the difference between a “Burg” and “Schloss” is and our conversation west like this:

Burg Hohenzollern - California Globetrotter
Burg Hohenzollern

So, what’s the difference you might ask?

To start with, in German, there are two meanings for a ‘castle’. One is a Burg and one is a Schloss, but they can get a little blurred over time.

Let me clarify that just a little bit more for ya!

 A Burg:

Is usually a fortress that was built for protection during the Middle Ages by the nobility. During this time, things were unsteady and turbulent, so the nobility needed protection from unwanted visitors. In the beginning, these Burgen (plural) started out as just a watch tower where people took refuge and gradually, over time expanded the towers into a strong, steady and fortified “castle” accommodating those seeking shelter within.

Kaiserburg in Nuremberg

These Burgen were built for protection than they were for luxury and comfort. Therefore, many Burgen are not elaborately decorated with ceiling frescos or fancy gardens for hosting parties. These were seen as unnecessary. Every necessary precaution was taken for the safety of those residing inside. In case the castle should come under attack, there is usually always a well for the people taking refuge inside to have access to water without having to leave the castle. Who knows, you might become under a 10 month siege like Burg Hohenzollern!

Usually, a Burg is built in an area that might be strategically difficult to reach, for example, perched on a hill, or surrounded by a moat with a draw bridge. This made it more difficult for invaders to get inside the fortress walls.

IMG_2646However, over time, as fortifications were no longer needed, the family who lived in these Burgen expanded and improved it to make it more comfortable, eventually turning these Burgen into a Schloss. A great example of this is the Burg Eltz. Only the nobility could build a castle of their own and this castle had three lines from the same family who came together to build the fortress with strong walls in a good location for protection. Over time though, it expanded to make it more comfortable for the three families and today is more of a castle than a fortress.

But wait…! What if you have a “Burg” on a “Berg”?

But now I have to ask about what a “Berg” is, after thinking about Heidelberg. I spent a year studying abroad here with the Schloss Heidelberg perched up on a mountain as my backyard. But that’s exactly what it is. Schloss Heidelberg is a castle which is perched up on a “mountain”. “Berg” in German translates to a ‘mountain’. So technically, the castle is named after the mountain on which the castle sits and there are plenty of these throughout Germany.Schloss Heidelberg, Baden-Württemburg, Germany - California Globetrotter

Many castles throughout Germany are either in perfect condition or left partially unfinished. Or in some cases, they are downright just remains or a castle falling into ruins. The ruins, called Burgruine are still accessible to visit and are incredibly intriguing to discover why they fell into ruins. Some castles, like Schloss Heidelberg are just unlucky and have been struck by lightning one too many times!

Schloss Herrenchiemsee

A “Schloss” is much more elegant and romantic than a Burg as these were generally built after the Middle Ages and usually were built as a residence for the nobility. They were not constructed to be a fortress for protection against outsiders. This was because the turbulent times from the Middle Ages had relaxed a bit and the nobility no longer felt the need for massive fortresses for protection. Instead, the nobility built these palaces for to impress, as is seen immediately upon entering the Grand Hall of many palaces.

As the centuries went by, the nobility had more and more time and money to spend on the arts and this is why on the inside and the outside of Schlösser (plural), they have stunning architecture, gardens and paintings. It was practically mandatory to host elaborate parties to show off one’s wealth and the beauty of their palace, almost as competition. King Ludwig II of Bavaria was especially fond of showing off his wealth by designing lavish castles beyond his own means.

Schloss Nymphenburg - Munich, Bavaria, Germany - California GlobetrotterWhen you’re at a Schloss, you will easily see the difference between a Burg and a Schloss, as usually they have magnificent gardens in the popular French style with elaborate designs. The castle will most likely be in a city or somewhere not built for the best protection and stunning artwork throughout the entire castle. There is usually always a grand entrance in which to welcome you to an evening of splendor. Overall, the castle is built more as a luxury home than a fortress for protection and was usually home to the most elite nobility or for royalty. Munich’s Schloss Nymphenburg is a great example of this!

But what about…?

Schloss Neuschwanstein is a stunning castle, perched up on a hill that thousands of tourists flock to see every year. It is every little girl’s fantasy dream to live in a castle such as this, but wait, it’s perched upon a high mountain, it has strong, steady walls, no gardens and it has towers but stunning frescos inside. So it is more a Burg or a Schloss?Schloss Neuschwanstein - Bavaria, Germany - California Globetrotter

Don’t be fooled though! King Ludwig II of Bavaria tore down the old castle that had previously been there and replaced it with a real life fantasy castle. While it may look and sounds more like a Burg, he never needed a fortress for protection. He was merrily recreating a fantasy from the writer Richard Wagner. Therefore, it was built more for extravagancy and luxury than for protection.

Schloss Ludwigsburg
Schloss Hohenschwangau

And a special shout out to GermanyJa! for providing a bit of information during my research for this post!

For more castles in Germany:

The Romantic Castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria

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Replies to What is the Difference Between a Burg and a Schloss?

  1. I get the same confusion about the English terms “castle” and “palace” (although we have “Palast”) in German as well. Is a palace where a monarch lives? And are fortresses types of castles? Otherwise, might fortress just be the English for Burg and castle the English for Schloss?

    1. Essentially, Schloss is palace and Burg is castle.
      More specifically:
      Palace is usually a seat of power in the center of a city that has little to no defensive parts and is a display of wealth by a king of emperor and is a single building or compound. Versailles in France is a palace. A castle, however, is entirely about defense and is self contained, shops, houses, stables are inside it. Castles are usually located outside of a city, otherwise they would be citadels.

  2. This is fascinating! It’s so easy to take words and names for granted but I always love finding the history and meanings behind them.Thanks for sharing.

  3. Haha, I think every girl dreams of being a princess 😀 Burg and Schloss hey, I have learnt something new. I prefer the look of a Burg, really fairytale looking! Sabrina xx

  4. Very well explained!! Awesome 😀
    Funny that you mentioned about not having castles in the US, while here in Germany/Europe there are so many… for me as a Brazilian is just the same, since there are no castles in Brazil either. Today they became normal, there are so many around Munich right? 😀 sooo cool!


  5. Do you know the German Burgenstraße. It is running from Mannheim to Prag, 1200km long and there you will find a lot of Burgen and Schlösser. You can visit many of them even when the owner is living there f.e. Schloss Langenburg with a Renaissance courtyard.

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